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A Ryanair Boeing 737 originating from Malta International approaches Toulouse-Blagnac in France last week © Charly Triballeau/AFP via Getty Images

A flurry of jet deliveries last month helped Boeing generate more free cash than it spent in 2022, marking its first positive free cash flow since two fatal crashes prompted a worldwide grounding.

The plane-maker reported $2.3bn in free cash last year, compared with an outflow of $4.4bn in 2021. Investors consider free cash — operating cash minus capital expenditures — a key measure of the company’s financial health.

“We generated more than $3bn in free cash flow in the fourth quarter, driven by progress in our performance and strong demand,” said chief executive David Calhoun.

Boeing’s 69 deliveries in December, plus strong demand for spare parts and plane modifications from the company’s services division, drove free cash flow.

The company’s cash outflows began in 2019 after its workhorse jet, the 737 Max, was grounded following two fatal crashes. Boeing pleaded guilty to misleading regulators and agreed to pay $2.5bn to defer federal prosecution.

But families of crash victims are challenging the agreement between Boeing and the US Department of Justice. A federal judge in Texas ruled in October they have legal status as crime victims and ordered that Boeing be formally arraigned on Thursday.

“The families are, quite frankly, very disappointed with the DoJ,” said Bob Clifford, an attorney representing them in separate litigation.

Boeing missed Wall Street’s fourth-quarter profit expectations due to higher production costs. Boeing lost $1.75 per share, compared with an anticipated 20 cents of profit per share.

Still, the size of its net loss shrank from $4.2bn to $663mn, while revenue increased 35 per cent from the fourth quarter of 2021 to $20bn.

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